In addition to my love of travel, I’m also a great lover of books! I read a whopping 50+ books last year and these are a few of my favourites:
On The Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Let’s start with my favourite read of the year; I liked it so much I read it twice in a row! On the Jellicoe Road is the story of teenager Taylor Markham, who was abandoned on the Jellicoe Road by her mother when she was a child. She is picked up by a young woman named Hannah and grows up attending Jellicoe’s boarding school for troubled youth. During the first few weeks of every year, the Jellicoe school participates in the Territory Wars with the local Townies and the Cadets. The students secretly fight over school territory behind the backs of their teachers and in her senior year, Taylor is selected as the leader for the Jellicoe School.
Taylor has spent most of her life trying to forget her sad history, but when the leader of the Cadets turns out to be an enemy from her past and Hannah disappears, leaving behind an unfinished manuscript about 5 kids, she is forced to uncover secrets about her past that have been buried and forgotten. I’ll admit, the premise of the story seemed a little strange to me at first and the narrative is a little hard to follow at the beginning, but this is a wonderful book about friendship, family, love, and loss. The relationships in this book are so touching and real and watching all the friendships grow is what made this book a huge winner for me!
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
A satirical novel set in Seattle about 15-year old Bee and her eccentric mother Bernadette. My book club selected this book as a “light read” after completing several heavy-themed books, and it did not disappoint! After Bee receives a glowing report card, she convinces her reluctant parents to take her to Antarctica for a family trip. Bee’s father is a high level executive at a tech company, so the trip planning falls mostly on Bee’s reclusive mother, Bernadette. After a number of unfortunate (and hilarious) incidents at Bee’s private school, Bernadette’s social anxiety begins to get the better of her and shortly before the trip, she disappears without a trace! The story is told through a series of emails and documents that Bee compiles in her attempt to track down her mother. This is a laugh-out-loud book about Seattle, private school, the tech industry, virtual living, and finding yourself; I would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a laugh!
Girl at War by Sara Novic
Finally, some historical fiction about Croatia! I travelled to Croatia in 2012 and aside from being totally enchanted by the beautiful landscapes; I was fascinated by Croatia’s turbulent recent history. My knowledge of the Bosnian War and the break-up of Yugoslavia was unfortunately quite incomplete when I travelled to Croatia. Since historical fiction is one of my favourite ways to learn about history, I looked for related books when I returned and had a hard time finding one about Croatia until now. Girl at War tells the story of Ana Juric’s life in Croatia as a young girl in the early 1990’s and later as a student in America. Ana escapes to America after a truly horrific experience and tries to move on by forgetting her former life. After being asked to speak at the UN about her experience during the war, Ana decides it is finally time to return to Croatia to face the ghosts of her past. This story is heart-breaking, but incredibly well written and moving.
Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny
As you may gather from this list, I like reading about women and I like challenging my thinking on gender equality and women’s issues. Unspeakable Things was definitely my favourite read on the topic this year. In this book, Laurie Penny talks about gender, power, and – the relatively new medium which makes things so much easier and yet so much more complicated – the internet. Feminism needs to be inclusive of all women – black, fat, lesbian, bi, transgender, poor, sick, or disabled – and Penny really challenged my thinking on women’s issues and “white feminism”. This book helped me push my thinking on intersectionality and I hope it has helped me be a better feminist!
The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin
This book is targeted at middle school age, but I really think anyone can enjoy this novel. When 12-year old Suzy is informed by her mother that her best friend Frannie has drowned just days before she starts 7th grade, she has no idea how to process her grief. Frannie was an excellent swimmer and Suzy can’t accept this simple account of how her friend was taken from her, especially after their unresolved fight at the end of 6th grade. Her feelings of guilt and of frustration at the adults in her life causes Suzy, a compulsive talker, to stop speaking entirely. But everything changes on a class field trip to the aquarium when Suzy learns about a rare jellyfish and becomes convinced that Frannie was killed by a jellyfish sting. She just has to prove it to everyone else. This novel is written in beautiful prose and tells a moving story of how Suzy comes to terms with the death of her friend.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Big Little Lies focuses on the lives of three women whose children just started kindergarten at Pirriwee Public School. There’s charismatic Madeline and her talkative daughter who is placed in a class with her ex-husband’s child; wealthy Celeste and her energetic twin boys; and quiet, single mother Jane with her little boy Ziggy. When one of the other children is bullied and Ziggy is blamed, tensions escalate quickly. We know from the beginning of the story that a kindergarten parent has been murdered, and as the story unfolds it leaves you wondering who could have possibly been murdered and how! It’s a very lighthearted novel that deals with some pretty intense issues – murder, sexual violence, domestic abuse, playground bullies, and helicopter parents – but never feels dark or overwhelming. The characters are well written and believable; I liked that this was a fun, easy read, but that I feel better for having read it.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I know Rainbow Rowell is super popular right now, but I was only introduced to her earlier this year when my book club read one of her other novels, Attachments. I really didn’t like Attachments, so I had trouble understanding Rowell’s appeal until I decided to give her another chance with Fangirl. Fangirl is about Cath Avery’s first year at college and how she struggles to leave behind the comforts of her childhood, namely her obsession with the popular Simon Snow fantasy series. The Simon Snow series represents the real-life Harry Potter series, and as a huge HP fangirl myself I was interested in the ‘fangirl’ storyline. Unfortunately, I think the fan aspect of this story was a little lacking and actually the weaker part of the story, but I loved the characters in this book and I loved reading about Cath’s struggles with her sister, boys, and with adjusting to college life. The characters and their struggles are so relatable and that was what made this book a win for me.
Ipanema Turtles: A South American Adventure by Bike by Laura Mottram
I stumbled upon this book when I was looking for literature to read about Brazil before I went on my trip. It only has about a dozen reviews on goodreads, so I’m happy to recommend it to more people! It’s a memoir about an English couple, Laura and Paddy, who take a year-long break from their lives to cycle around South America. They start on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro and cycle more than 20,000 kms, through every country in South America, before returning (like turtles) back to the same beach where they began. The story is written by Laura using her travel diaries. It’s not the best travel writing I’ve read because Laura is not a writer and has never written a book before, but it’s personal and I really enjoyed traveling along with the couple on what must have been an incredible journey. Both characters are relatable – I didn’t feel like Laura or Paddy were so different from myself – which is what made their journey so believable and exciting!
The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti
I always knew America had a bit of an obsession with virginity, but I never realized how deeply ingrained the idea of sexual purity is in American culture. I was genuinely shocked by some of the things I learned from this book, such as the existence of “purity balls” where girls and their fathers attend a ball for the daughter to sign a pledge of abstinence to her father, who is viewed as the keeper of her virginity until marriage. Government funded abstinence-only education is incredibly prevalent in parts of America, where school curriculum includes comparing sexually active girls to a piece of tape that gets dirtier every time you re-use it (or have sex with a new partner). This was a really eye-opening book on how America fetishizes virginity, uses “sexual purity” to control, de-value, and shame women, and attempts to limit women’s sexual freedom and autonomy. (Follow this book with a reading of “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights” by Katha Pollitt if you want to be really disgusted)
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
This graphic novel is awesome! The story is great, the message is great, the artwork is great – it’s just fun all around. Nimona is a young shapeshifter who teams up with supervillain Lord Blackheart to take on Sir Goldenloin and his cronies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. The Institution is supposed to protect the Kingdom, but when Nimona discovers that they’re actually lying to the peasants and putting them in danger, she wants to strike back! Nimona is impulsive, funny, and boy does she have character. If you love a book where the good guys are the bad guys, science is revered, and the hero is a chubby, red-headed girl – then this is the book for you. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and really enjoyable to read!
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
This story opens in the mid 1970’s when teenager Lydia Lee turns up dead in the local lake. The police chalk her death up to suicide by drowning, but Lydia’s parents can’t believe their beautiful, popular, and intelligent daughter would kill herself and suspect foul play. Lydia’s parents, Marilyn and James, are a mixed race couple with two other children, Nath and Hannah. When I picked this book up, I thought it might be a mystery or thriller, but it’s really a simple story about relationships. We get to experience the story from the point of view of each family member as their histories, personalities, fears, and dreams are revealed to us over the course of the novel. It’s not a fast paced book, but it’s well written and I really enjoyed the character development throughout the story.
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Everyone loves Sophie Kinsella, but after you’ve read so many of her books (like I have), it can start to get a little repetitive. Finding Audrey is her first young adult novel and was definitely a change of pace from her other material. After a bullying incident goes awry, 14-year old Audrey develops severe social anxiety and agoraphobia, refusing to leave the house, talk to anyone, or take off her dark sunglasses. This book is about Audrey’s family and her brother’s friend Linus and how they encourage Audrey as she deals with her anxiety. It’s a surprisingly funny book about family, relationships, and mental illness. It’s a sweet and simple story and I loved Audrey’s crazy and supportive family!